, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 151–160 | Cite as

Dam the rivers; damn the people: Hydroelectric development and resistance in Amazonian Brazil

  • Cummings Barbara J. 


This paper analyzes the history and consequences of two large scale hydroelectric projects in Amazonian Brazil. The argument makes three points. First, environmental impacts of such projects are inseparable from issues of human rights, regional economic development, and social justice. The implication of this view is that “another” development, something quite different from the industrial ideal of “modernization”, is necessary in Amazonia and elsewere.

Second, analytical fragmentation of problems into specialist concerns with such topics as “ecology” (often only meaning wildlife), “environment” (often concerned only with soil erosion and regional climate), and “human rights” (sometimes only focusing on the rights of indigenous people, not small farmer migrants tempted to settle in such areas) is mirrored by a fragmented, and therefore weak, resistance to hydroelectric development. The paper traces the early signs of a more unified resistance movement capable of overcoming these special interests and fragmentation.

Third, the paper provides data on an economic monstrosity. The Balbina dam was begun in 1981, had cost $ 700 million by 1988, will not be viable withoutanother $ 700 million of design correction, andeven then will not provide enough electricity for Manaus city: this is a monument to an apparent inability to learn from history.


Economic Development Environmental Impact Regional Climate Soil Erosion Social Justice 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. A Critica: Hidreletrica Balbina sob debate aberta, 26 August 1987.Google Scholar
  2. A Critica: Pesquisador acusa o erro de Balbina, 20 July 1988.Google Scholar
  3. Agricultural Workers Union: Proceedings from meeting at Cahoeira Morena. 26 July 1988.Google Scholar
  4. Barbira-Scazzocchio, F.: From Native Forest to Private Property: Development of Amazonia for Whom? In: Barbira-Scazzocchio (ed.), Land, People and Planning in Contemporary Amazonia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1979.Google Scholar
  5. Bunker, S.: Underdeveloping the Amazon: Extraction, Unequal Exchange, and the Failure of the Modern State. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1985.Google Scholar
  6. Caufield, C.: In the Rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1984.Google Scholar
  7. CEDI: Empressas de Mineracao e Terras Indigenas na Amazonia. Sao Paulo, Sept. 1987.Google Scholar
  8. CNEC/Eletronorte. Aspetos Gerais de UHE Kararao 1988.Google Scholar
  9. Correa, S.: Interview. July 10, 1988.Google Scholar
  10. Costa, L.: Letter to the World Bank. Comissao Regional Atingido pela Barragem — C.R.A.B., Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil 7/27/88.Google Scholar
  11. Davis, S.: Victims of the Miracle: Development and the Indians of Brazil. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1977.Google Scholar
  12. Eletrobras: Plano Nacional de Energia Eletrica 1987/2010. Ministry of Mines and Energy/Eletrobras, Rio de Jaineiro, Dec. 1987.Google Scholar
  13. Eletronorte: Estudos Xingu: Estudos de Viabilidade, UHE Kararao: EIA/RIMA (Preliminar). Brasilia, Feb. 1988.Google Scholar
  14. Eletronorte/FUNAI: Waimiri-Atroari. 1988.Google Scholar
  15. Fearnside, P.: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: How Fast Is It Occuring? Interciencia, 7,2 (March–April 1982)Google Scholar
  16. Goldsmith, E.; Hilyard, N.: The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams. Vol. 1. Wadebridge Ecological Center, UK 1984.Google Scholar
  17. Goodland, R.: Environmental Rankings of Amazonian Development Projects in Brazil. In: Barbira-Scazzocchio, (ed.), Land, People and Planning in Contemporary Amazonia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1979.Google Scholar
  18. Journal do Brasil: 10/5/87, cited in MAREWA (1987)Google Scholar
  19. Kaiapo, Paulinho PaiaKan: Remarks at the First International Congress of Ethnobiology, Belem, Brazil, 22 July 1988.Google Scholar
  20. Landim, L.: Non-governmental Organizations in Latin America. World Development, 15 (supplement), 29–38 (1987)Google Scholar
  21. Lange, A.: (Employee of Eletronorte): Interview. June 27, 1988.Google Scholar
  22. MAREWA: Balbina: Ameaca e Destruicao na Amazonia. Manaus, 1987.Google Scholar
  23. Monosowski, E.: Brazil's Tucurui Dam: Development at Environmental Cost. In: Goldsmith, E.; Hilyard, N. (eds.), The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams. Vol. 2. Wadebridge Ecological Center, UK 1987.Google Scholar
  24. Myers, N.: The Primary Source. W. W. Norton and Co., New York 1984.Google Scholar
  25. O Estado do Sao Paulo: O Escalando da Hidreltrica Balbina. 31 July 1988.Google Scholar
  26. O Liberal. Autoritarismo seria causa do processo de expulsao. 26 July 1988.Google Scholar
  27. Prelazia do Xingu: Files. Belem, Para, Brazil.Google Scholar
  28. Raven, P.: We're Killing Our World. Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Chicago, Feb. 14, 1988.Google Scholar
  29. Schwade, E.: Os Grandes Empreendimentos na Amazonia e Seu Custo Social. Unpublished mss., n.d.Google Scholar
  30. Schwartzman, S.; Allegretti, M.: Extractive Production in the Amazon and the Rubber Tappers Movement. Environmental Defense Fund, Washington DC, May 1987.Google Scholar
  31. Survival International: Amazon Alliance. Survival International News 17 (1987)Google Scholar
  32. Vesilind, P.: Brazil: Moments of Promise and Pain. National Geographic 171,3 (March 1987)Google Scholar
  33. Viveros de Castro, E.; Andrade, L.: Obras do destino: o ambientalismo oficial. Tempo e Presenca, (May 1988)Google Scholar
  34. Washington Post. Timber Producers, Users Talk of Saving Forests. (23 July 1988)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cummings Barbara J. 
    • 1
  1. 1.SeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations